Meet the boss from Dentsu Aegis who is passionate about diversity

Kevin Cunningham
Kevin Cunningham
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Kevin Cunningham believes the region’s firms must embrace diversity to ensure they attract the business stars of the future, writes Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright.

EVERY day consumers are bombarded with thousands of messages from companies who want them to buy their goods or services.

But how do you ensure that the message is right for the audience you want to attract?

For a start, you can make sure your team reflects British society, in all its cultural richness.

Anyone spending time with Kevin Cunningham, the managing partner at Dentsu Aegis Leeds, soon becomes aware of his passion for diversity.

Just ask the students who participated in the The Rise Up Digital Challenge, which is run by the Code Initiative and MyKindaFuture.

The prize included a week’s placement with the global media and digital marketing communications company. All the students worked on a campaign brief to market Jaguar Land Rover to a female audience; a current gap in their market.

As part of the Code initiative, Dentsu Aegis Network works with local schools to encourage teenagers to take a career in advertising and media. Mr Cunningham wants to use the global power of the Dentsu Aegis network to make a positive impact on society and recruit the next generation of talent in the digital advertising.

“ A team from Leeds won it last year,” said Mr Cunningham.

“We give them a brief and we try to encourage them to consider advertising as part of their future careers. Universities are really important but it’s also important to engage with young people really early on. We really want to make advertising more diverse. We have specifically chosen schools that are more ethnically diverse to try to encourage them to consider advertising.”

It’s hoped that last year’s competition winners - Carys Miller and Ellie Milner from Elliot Hudson College in Leeds - will use their success as a springboard for a creative career.

A talented junior tennis player, Mr Cunningham started his career selling advertising for the Independent newspaper. Since September 2016. he’s been managing partner at Dentsu Aegis in Leeds, a role with a global dimension. London-based Aegis became part of the biggest media and digital communications group in Asia when it was taken over by the Tokyo-based advertising giant Dentsu in 2012. The team in Leeds works with some of the biggest corporate names.

Mr Cunningham said: “We’re always trying to reflect their core challenges as a business.”

One of the biggest challenges facing any big corporate brand is finding a streamlined and accurate way of measuring and analysing data.

Mr Cunningham said: “We believe digital is at the core of our clients’ growth. But because of the complexity of that user journey, we need to try and offer our clients services that all integrate perfectly together.

“Data is getting far more abundant,’’ he added: “The biggest challenge that most of our clients have is trying to get insight and take action from that data and doing it in a compliant way. "But the key to any kind of data play is to make sure you’ve got the right technology.”

In a complex and multi-channel world, companies must analyse data in the correct way before they can act on it, said Mr Cunningham. But without the right technology you’re never going to have the levers to take action, he added.

“In a world where the average consumer gets between 4,000 and 10,000 advertising messages a day, having fantastic creative has never been more important,’’ he said.

Mr Cunningham believes that Channel 4’s decision to set up its headquarters in Leeds will provide a larger pool of talent within the creative sector.

He added: “It will also bring a lot of investment and a lot of associated and ancillary businesses will be based around that Channel 4 hub.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity. It’s also a great advert for Leeds as a city to have been in competition with all those other fantastic cities that were in that bid and to come out on top. It says a lot about the diversity we have got in Leeds.

“There’s a young, vibrant, creative community that’s going to be key to making our marketing far more effective over the coming years.

“Trying to find the right staff is difficult,’’ said Mr Cunningham. “Our focus over the last 10 years has been building from the bottom, so we have apprentice schemes and graduate programmes. Once those people are in, they are trained and developed not only by what feels like a local business, but what feels like a global business. Those people are being trained in the best tools in the market place to give us a competitive advantage. There are 80 of us in Leeds and 45,000 of us globally.

“It means people can have access to what we believe is the best talent globally rather than just in this city.”

Mr Cunningham said Dentsu will continue to develop the workforce of the future.

He added: “We have continued to grow over the last 15 years. We’ve got enough space to continue to grow, particularly in data.

“We’ve got a really strong hub for data and technology in this city. That’s going to be one of our key growth areas.

“Putting a number on our growth is always difficult,’’ he added. “What we want to make sure of in Leeds is that we do the best work and we have the deepest partnerships with our clients. That ultimately will lead to increased success.”

Although he’s proud of the company’s strong links with education, Mr Cunningham is far from complacent.

He added: “I still think that academically we can do more in things like digital marketing. That’s a massive area of growth.

“We do have lots of partnerships with universities to try to bring in the best talent. We’ve also got initiatives with local schools. It’s also about having role models who look like those individuals. It’s beginning to change and the speed of change is getting faster.

“We’ve also tried to be a lot more flexible with the way that we work. Any of our staff can flex their time. We also think job share is really important. It’s important that we have people working for us who are representative of the people we are marketing to.”